Bluesdoodles is delighted to have once again the opportunity to have a conversation with the invited participants for the Sixth UKBlues Challenge. The judges are going to have a real challenge in deciding which of the five bands (Ash Wilson, Connor Selby Band, Crossfire and The Achievers with band number five to be announced after Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival, Jessica Foxley stage will be choosing the fifth band!) are going to be heading off to represent the UK at the 36th International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January 2019 & 10th European Blues Challenge in Zaandam in the Netherlands in April 2020.
The first conversation in the run-up to the 2019 challenge with Liz over at Bluesdoodles is with Ash Wilson.
BD: Firstly, thank you for taking the time out to chat about participating in the 6th UK Blues Challenge, Blues, your music and more. AW:It is always a pleasure to talk to you Liz and this is a new adventure for my musical career.
BD: 2019 sees the sixth UK British Blues Challenge. Tell us what it means to Ash Wilson to have been nominated to participate in the challenge with the chance of representing the UK in International Blues Challenge in Memphis and European Blues Challenge in Zaandam in the Netherlands in April 2020.
AW: It was a massive surprise as over the last 12-18 months I have been heavily involved playing in Sari Schorr’s band, so not been doing much of my own stuff….. I didn’t realise it was so well known and people recognised, though I have been reaching wider access to audiences playing with Sari. I am currently working on a follow-up album to Broken Machine, and being nominated for the challenge is a positive push to get the album completed. People are asking about a follow-up album when I am going back to playing gigs/touring again. The new material will give performing a new sense of relevance, not playing the same set as last time we were out on the road. I have the new material so I just need to get into the studio with the musicians and record the music. It is about making some time. Blues Challenge is a great marker to get the music honed and recorded. What an opportunity to represent the UK it is a huge deal. It is an opportunity from the challenge and onwards to reach new audiences and showing our backing from the UKBlues Federation it is going to be a good experience. It is a recognition, validation of my music, not just me believing it but the chance to represent the Country in the genre I work in for many years distilling my influences over the last 20-25 years, young American players including Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang coming over here there is a real resonance. The competition is strong, Connor is one of the exciting new bands around, a fabulous guitarist we have opened for him, tough competition to pit ourselves against! Blues, does not often feel supported whoever goes forward it will be such an opportunity and I would be excited for them. I am just so happy to be involved as we are not the most traditional act. The new record continues on this trend building on Broken Machine lots of new influences having been exposed to touring with Sari Schorr. The challenge is very exciting for me a bookmark as the last two years my life has changed been doing lots of different things. It would be amazing to win and take my music to Memphis and Europe but I am really excited to be asked to take part in the challenge, being part of the celebration of artists in the blues scene today. It is a venue I have played before, Poynton Is a great venue where I have made lots of friends.
BD: What are the Blues to Ash Wilson? Do you feel British Blues has a different feel to what is being currently produced in Europe, United States and elsewhere in the world?
AW: Everyone brings their own influences to the blues. British side of blues it is hard to ignore the echoes of the 1960’s. There are 3 or 4 cycles of influences that takes us back to 1960’s British electric blues travelled back to the USA creating a new sound again. Bringing us up to today and new interpretations Matt Pearce Is creating a new sound as he brings American influences back to Europe. The internet has a huge influence on how we access and listen to music, blues is moving towards more of a world sound as influences are added to the blues lexicon of sounds. There is a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan still heard throughout the genre. Blues like Jazz has some people that are very traditional. There is a shift you can hear it as a writer have to be careful not to be drawn into the fear that this isn’t blues that fear is far off if you understand what it feels like to play and what is expected from the blues. European Blues I love the musicianship and guitar playing Henrik Freischlader and so many superb guitarists from the States, not sure if the difference isn’t more individual approaches rather than and national identity. Europeans’ throughout 70’s and 80’s did have a distinctive sound that can still be heard it was very visual. Blues can be full on electric and then there is acoustics and slide guitar, Jack Broadbent slide playing is his trademark whereas mine is very different but both are seen as Blues. Blues music is a positive influence, honest music, honest lyrics that you mean what you play.BD: Who has influenced your playing, songwriting and performances?
AW:I know my limitations as a singer, my vocals are distinctive and I write stuff that I can sing, I don’t sound like the music I like to listen to! For me it is more about the songs and connecting with emotions rather than leading into a guitar solo. My influences include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robben Ford and Jimi Hnedrix. I have never felt that instrumentals are enough I love the lyrics and the singers. Influences outside blues are so many Lou Reed – Velvet Underground; Mark Knopfler – Dire Straits; Nick Cave and Queens of the Stone Age. I do practice my singing and had a vocal coach but I naturally sing high and not being able to sustain is a weakness. So sharp short melodies work best I have listened to Sinatra quite a lot to bring character to my vocal. I am a massive Pink Floyd fan how that created orchestral tonal ranges to suits each song. You can hear influences from Andrew Sister on my song The Hitcher, having backing vocals from the girls makes a louder sound, I would also like to add a horns section. When writing I start off writing either a guitar riff or vocal lick and flesh out the idea. Then what will accompany this, whatever feels right could be Ry Cooder or Andrew Sisters. The last album was self-produced so there was no-one pulling back the music into its context, I would like a more cohesive sounding record next time. That said Broken Machine was a vanity project, I never planned to release it then it came to be released. I take my influences from wide range Doyle Bramhall II, George Benson, Robin Trower and so many more. I do wish I could be more original I would love to be a pioneer! I am very adaptive this works playing with Sari I can adapt by drawing from other players sound. I am definitely most creative when I am writing songs but I love playing the guitar. I grew up in a family that listened to lots of music from Blues to Prog Rock it was wide ranging so was just into music. It was Kenny Wayne Shepherd who got me into the Blues. I didn’t have much exposure to traditional blues. Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan started exploring what was his influences took me to Muddy Waters – Electric Mud, Hard Again; BB King – Live at The Regal. Whatever the influences I was born with my voice and that dictates my direction.
BD: Ash, your last album was Broken Machine, and you have been touring with Sari Schorr do you have any plans to be back in the studio to follow up on Broken Machine?
AW: Yes, I have plans. I have over twenty songs and always do an acoustic version of the song to check out that it is not just about clever arrangements. It is about finding the time when musicians are free and where to record the album. Will record the same way as Broken Machine, live in the room to get the energy. I do want a bigger cleaner production to have a big sound there is the pressure of expectation this time. I am in the right place following on from the album I did with Sari. It will definitely not be Broken Machine part 2, will be more cohesive with new songs, new music the best I have written at the time. Art is more important than I am so has to be the best it possibly can be with strong lyrics and story so will have new songs to play at the Blues Challenge.
BD: What do you feel The UKBlues Federation can bring to the UK Blues what would you like the Federation to be doing for Blues artists on the circuit in Britain today?
AW: The Federation are raising the profile in a difficult time. There needs to be a change who is going to gigs and a time when there are more bands playing to declining audiences. When I played with Sean Webster it was different more people coming to shows. Venues are closing like the Borderline who can’t afford the rent, venues in the Capital always struggle the real issue is at the grassroots venues are not bringing in enough money. The Federation can only do so much the structure of live music needs to be invigorated, It Is not the venues fault it is complex people don’t buy music anymore, so bands tour more creating less demand as people feel can catch them next time. Blues Federation can only give support to artists and music. It is different in Europe, lots of free festivals with governments supporting the arts with grants whereas in the UK it is a continual struggle; leading to cuts in music being taught in Mainstream Education. The music scene in UK is polarized you have few huge acts including Adele, Ed Sheeran, U2 playing stadiums and the rest have to make do with what is left. There are success stories and people work hard like Laurence Jones he has achieved success with tenacity, drive and focus. Blues Federation can continue to raise awareness of gigs and artists, encourage people to buy music, support live music. The Blues Challenge meets these aims and profiles what is happening in UK Blues.
BD: If you were putting together the perfect band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing?
Guitar: Mike Landau / Jeff Beck
Bass: Willie Weeks
Drums: Steve Gadd
Vocals: Joe Cocker
6th UKBlues Challenge is being held on On Saturday, September 14th at Bluefunk Rhythm and Blues Club., Poynton, Cheshire. Doors at 18.30 and the evening will close at around 23.15. Tickets are priced at £17.50 (plus booking fee) seated and £15.00 (plus booking fee) standing and can only be purchased via SeeTickets.com – Tickets available HERE Demand for tickets is already very high and there is a very limited number of tickets available so, to avoid disappointment, we do urge you to get yours now before they are all gone.